This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah can take credit for Oregon's No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That's a compliment, mostly.
The Utes accommodated the Ducks in Saturday's championship game of the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, losing by 31 points and adding to Oregon's credentials. Oregon's top seed in the West Region really is an endorsement of Utah, though. Three wins over the Utes, including an 18-point victory at the Huntsman Center, clearly did a lot for the Ducks' case.
The NCAA basketball committee treated Oregon, Utah and the rest of the Pac-12 very well. The conference is sending a record seven teams to the tournament, all seeded No. 8 or higher, in a validation of the "depth and competitiveness" cited by commissioner Larry Scott. Going seven deep is a breakthrough for a league that produced only two NCAA teams as recently as 2012.
Oregon's top seed in the West is the conference's biggest story. The Ducks were chosen over Michigan State a potential Utah opponent in the Sweet 16 for a No. 1 seed and were allowed to stay on the West Coast for the tournament's first two weekends, playing in Spokane, Wash., and Anaheim, Calif.
Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak could only admire the Ducks after Saturday's 88-57 loss, saying, "I wouldn't want to play 'em" in the NCAA Tournament. That could happen only in the Final Four, in Utah's case.
Arizona's Sean Miller is even more of an Oregon advocate. Maybe Miller was just trying to strengthen his own team's case, but he said the Ducks deserved a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. "I guess everybody has a different opinion," he said, "but they're certainly one of college basketball's best teams. … There is not a harder-working, more together, tough-minded team."
Other than the rout of Utah, Oregon was not overwhelming in Las Vegas. The Ducks were extended by Washington in the quarterfinals and blew a 17-point lead in regulation against Arizona before winning in overtime in the semifinals.
Yet Oregon's athletic, versatile lineup will present problems for any opponent, including Oklahoma in a possible regional final. The Ducks' defense is active and disruptive, as shown by Utah's season-high 20 turnovers in the Pac-12 title game.
The Ducks went 14-4 in the Pac-12 schedule to win the regular-season championship by only one game, so they obviously were rewarded for going 6-1 vs. Utah, Arizona and California. Oregon lost to UNLV and Boise State early in the season, but the Ducks were playing through injuries to Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey.
The announcement of Oregon's No. 1 seed in the early stages of the interminable CBS selection show was just the start of the positive developments for the Pac-12. Compared with the final projections of ESPN's Joe Lunardi, Arizona was the only Pac-12 team that received a lower seed. The Wildcats fell to No. 6 and must travel to Providence, R.I. Four of the other six contestants were boosted by the committee, in comparison to Lunardi's picks, with Oregon State moving up two spots to No. 7.
The Beavers are in the field for the first time since 1990, when a Gary Payton-led team lost to coach Dick Hunsaker's Ball State club at the Huntsman Center. OSU's current star is Gary Payton II, formerly of Salt Lake Community College. California joined Utah in the top four and Colorado and USC received No. 8 seeds, amid some speculation that the Buffaloes or Trojans might be left out. That would have been "a dang shame," Krystkowiak said.
"You cannot deny the the numbers of our conference and the quality from top to bottom this year," said Miller, who believes any of the seven Pac-12 entrants is "capable of winning a couple of games."
The Pac-12's coaches have talked up the conference all season, and now they have a chance to prove its worth. "I hate to put pressure on everybody like that," said Oregon's Dana Altman, "but I just think that our league's been really competitive and really good."
Pac-12 first-round pairings
• No. 8 Southern Cal vs. No. 9 Providence
• No. 4 California vs. No. 13 Hawaii
• No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Vanderbilt/Wichita St.
• No. 8 Colorado vs. No. 9 Connecticut
• No. 3 Utah vs. No. 14 Fresno St.
• No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 16 Holy Cross/Southern
• No. 7 Oregon State vs. No. 10 VCU